WORLD OF FIGURES: Is ministry cheating the system in upgrading schools?

For more than 40 years, up until the year 2011, there were only 18 national secondary schools in Kenya.

Saturday February 27 2016

Tom Wanderi Kingori from Alliance High School

Tom Wanderi Kingori from Alliance High School after he was announced the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) top student in the country March 3, 2014. For more than 40 years, up until the year 2011, there were only 18 national secondary schools in Kenya. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA 

For more than 40 years, up until the year 2011, there were only 18 national secondary schools in Kenya. Then the Ministry of Education started upgrading others into this prestigious category and, today, there are 103 of them spread almost evenly across the

country.

It is not clear how the ministry decides that a certain school deserves to be classified as national. The public have always assumed that it is based on academic performance but a close look at the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results negates that assumption.

Nevertheless, this year, the ministry introduced a new policy where all those who score 400-plus marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations will be posted to national schools.

If this rule is maintained, then, in four years’ time, many of the unknown newly upgraded schools will suddenly be thrust into the limelight — they will shine at the 2020 KCSE!

But is that right; does sending bright students to a selected group of schools mean that the schools are doing well?

Will it mean that the schools have improved? I don’t think so. The ministry is inadvertently “cheating the system”!

To avoid this pitfall, we need to change the method of deciding which schools to upgrade to the “national” category. I suggest we use market demand data; that is, the Standard 8 pupils who are waiting to join secondary school.

HOW MANY NATIONAL SCHOOLS DO WE WANT?

We need to first decide how many national schools we want. We may pick, say, the 100 with the greatest demand. That is, those that attract the largest number of applicants.

Since by definition they are “national”, I don’t think it is necessary to distribute them evenly per county.

However, the number of applicants alone is not enough. Therefore, I propose a graded system with 4 points for each first choice, 3 for second choice, 2 for third and one for any other.

Furthermore, since we are looking for a “national” school, it must also have demand from outside its home county. To capture this, we multiply the points for each choice by the number of counties they came from.

For example: if a school has 10,000 candidates from 25 counties choosing it first, 5,000 from 30 as second, 3,000 from 35 as third, and 1,000 from 40 in other lower priority, it would get (10,000 x 25) + (5,000 x 30) + (3,000 x 35) + (1,000 x 40) = 250,000 + 150,000 + 105,000 + 40,000 = 545,000 points.

Obviously, it is impractical to do this every year so I suggest we review the categorisation once every eight years — two secondary school cycles.

In addition, it is not enough to simply call a school “national” and leave it at that; that tag must have benefits attached to it, for example, enhanced financing per pupil, better salaries for principals, etc.

That way, principals will compete for the upgrade and, in the process, school standards will improve.

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